Illinois volleyball beats Michigan State in first week sweep of season

By Nicholas Fortin

The Illinois volleyball team did this weekend what it has wanted to do all year.

After winning against No. 17 Michigan on Wednesday, the Illini beat No. 13 Michigan State in four sets on Saturday for their third win in a row and the team’s first swept week of the conference season.

“I thought we just worked really hard and extended the amount of fight we had for one of the longest times that I have seen so far,” junior outside hitter Liz McMahon said. “With the exception of the first part of the second set, we battled the whole time.”

Illinois took control of the first set early and didn’t relinquish it. The Illini led throughout, eventually winning 25-19.

Michigan State bounced back in the second set, jumping out to an early lead of its own and going on a nine-point run to make the score 11-2 before Illinois began to claw it’s way back into the set. The Illini made a run, coming within three points of the Spartans at 17-14, but never got closer and eventually were put away in the set 25-21.

“In the middle of that set we talked about the fact that we did back off completely and let them come at us and then said we need to make this change where we’re attacking them and getting on them because they’ll back down, and they did,” sophomore outside hitter Jocelynn Birks said.  “We didn’t end up winning because we didn’t have the points to string along or the time to get those points. I think we came back and that was a momentum-carrier into the third.”

Illinois used the momentum gained in its comeback in the second set to power through the final two sets and pick up the win. The Illini went on a 9-0 run in the third set before winning 25-17, and picked up right where they had left off in the fourth set eventually winning the set 25-19.

With its first swept week of the year, Illinois moved back to .500 on the season at 12-12 (8-6 Big Ten).

“I just feel like it’s been some time coming,” head coach Kevin Hambly said of the swept weekend. “We’ve had the opportunities to do it, and we’ve finally just continued to execute and just fought for the whole match. Certainly we needed to get to .500, which we finally are at, and now we need to get ahead of that. I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come from the group and that we’re going to continue to compete the way we’ve competed tonight because when we do that we’re tough.”

Nicholas can be reached at [email protected] and @IlliniSportsGuy.